Durban - A question in the matric dramatic art exam this week, where pupils were asked to describe how they would stage the rape of a baby using a loaf of bread and a broomstick as props, has horrified teachers, parents and pupils.
The Department of Basic Education, however, stood by its decision to include the question, with its spokesman, Elijah Mhlanga, saying that a subject, like the rape of a 9-month-old baby, was “not new” to a Grade 12 pupil.
“By the time pupils are in matric, they have begun to be faced with the realities of adulthood, often beyond the security of their homes and the school system,” he said on Tuesday.
“They will, through media and cinema, have been exposed to many horrific images and reports,” said Mhlanga.
Drama allowed pupils to confront real matters “through the safety of story”, he added.
The question was in a compulsory section of the dramatic arts exam written by government schools on Monday, which also marked the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.
Pupils were given an unseen extract from South African playwright Lara Foot’s play Tshepang, which was inspired by the rape of a 9-month-old baby, known as “Baby Tshepang”, by her mother’s boyfriend, in Upington in the Free State in 2001.
The extract the pupils were given included stage directions that read: “He (a character named Simon) acts out the rape, using the broomstick and the loaf of bread.”
The pupils were asked to describe how they would get the actor portraying Simon to perform this, to “maximise the horror of the rape”.
Not long after the exam finished, @kath_joubert tweeted: “Drama exam asking us how we’d rape a loaf of bread on stage, uhh #comeagain?”
On Tuesday night, Foot told The Mercury she found the question “problematic”. As it was presented, it indicated a misunderstanding on the part of the person who set it.
“I would really like to know what the proposed correct answer is.”
The question had missed her “stylistic choices”, Foot said.
“I have played Tshepang to 12 000 kids with very successful and rewarding question-and-answer sessions afterwards,” she said.
Asked to comment on Tuesday, drama teachers, school organisations and gender rights’ activists agreed the question was too “graphic” to ask high school pupils.
They were concerned that pupils who had experienced sexual abuse could have been further traumatised by having to answer the question.
A teacher at a government-run all-girls high school in Durban, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was “revolting”.
She knew of pupils at her school who had been sexually abused.
“How dare they (the department) make them (the pupils) confront something so horrific and graphic in an exam situation,” she said.
Some upmarket schools took issue with the question and indicated they would be addressing the Department of Basic Education on their “concerns” regarding the question.
The national head of the Governing Body Foundation, Tim Gordon, said the exam had been written by a diverse group of pupils and the question was “insensitive”.
He did not know how it had been allowed in the paper.
It could be argued that it was an acceptable question to be asked of university students, he said.
“They (pupils) are young adults, but some matric pupils are only 17,” he said.
The deputy chief executive of Gender Links, Kubi Rama, said she had read the question “with horror”.
She called for teachers to be trained to understand the causes and effects of gender violence and to understand gender.
“The insensitivity of the question raises alarm bells about the examiner’s attitudes and beliefs,” she said. “How can we have someone so gender-blind teaching young people?”